It is a regrettable fact of organisational life that, at one time or another, the actions of an employee will lead to the use of your discipline or grievance processes.  But managing these as effective procedures is only half the challenge.  What frequently follows, in the wake of these cases is the breakdown of relationships, confidence and trust; sometimes spreading well beyond those directly involved and seriously damaging your organisation’s bottom line.

So how do you rebuild relationships that have been badly damaged and where confidence has been broken?  And crucially, from a business perceptive, how do you restore the former productivity of members of staff?  We believe that using a Restorative Approach (RA) answers these questions, by seeking to resolve the complex employee issues involved.

In most workplace disciplinary or grievance cases, the victim of another person’s actions rarely gets to contribute to the disciplinary or grievance process, apart from giving their evidence to a third party investigating the issues raised.  There is little prospect for either employee to explain how their lives have been affected by the incident, no right to discuss the hurt and stress suffered with the other employee involved and frequently no opportunity to make reparation.  Apart from any sanction handed to the perpetrator, there is also the question of their longer term behaviour and their tainted profile within the workforce.

RA applies a proven dispute resolution concept from the community justice area, a process designed to reduce the damage caused by unresolved disputes and to begin the work of rebuilding trust and confidence.

What the Process Involves

After the conclusion of the disciplinary or grievance issue, RA focuses on beginning a conversation between the parties involved, giving each party a chance explore what has happened and explain the impact it has had on their lives and their ability to continue doing their job.  For both parties, it is a chance to be heard – to explain how they have been personally affected by the actions of the other, to respond  and to take steps to repair the damage.

RA starts when both employees voluntarily agree to take part in the process. An independent facilitator meets the employees involved, to explore their perspective on the incident.  This may be the first time each employee has been listened to impartially, confidentially or without being judged.

The employees are then encouraged to come together in a facilitated joint meeting. The facilitator ensures the meeting offers a safe and controlled environment in which to express emotion, speak frankly and confront difficult issues, with restoring trust and building an effective working relationship being the focus of the discussion.  The employees decide on what issues will be discussed and how their ongoing relationship will be maintained, which might include a change of behaviour or attitudes in their future working relationship.  The facilitator may also encourage the parties to consider the wider work group and the impact the case has had on colleagues within the organisation.

At arc we believe it is a mistake to consider the disciplinary or grievance process in isolation as it may not conclude when one employee has been handed a sanction, or their employment terminated.    For both line managers and HR professionals, coping with the after effects of disciplinary and grievance cases can be both time consuming, demanding and expensive.  Although little used in employment disputes, RA offers the opportunity for human resource professionals to begin resolving post dispute issues in a new way, offering a unique opportunity for positive and final closure of an incident, cultivating deep seated cultural change.

For the vast majority of organisations, people are, and will continue to be, their most valuable asset.  Following disciplinary or grievance cases, leaving employee relationships in a state of disrepair simply cannot be in the employers’ or employees’ best interests.

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